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Conservative MPs told not to talk to media, post about 'parental rights' protests

OTTAWA -

Conservative MPs were told not to post online or talk to media about competing protests on Parliament Hill that saw protesters clashing over how schools should handle LGBTQ2S+ issues.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the message sent to members of Pierre Poilievre's caucus, which warned them not to speak publicly about the issue and provided talking points they could use to communicate with their constituents.

It is common for the Opposition leader's office to issue suggested talking points on prominent issues, as it has done on topics that Conservative MPs frequently speak to reporters about, such as bail reform and inflation.

Poilievre's office has not provided a response to a request for comment, including on the explicit direction that MPs not speak to media on this particular issue.

The memo about protests organized all over Canada says protesters have "legitimate points to make" about the issue of what it describes as "parental rights."

Thousands of people gathered in cities across the country for competing protests, yelling and chanting at each other about the way schools instruct sexuality and gender identity and how teachers refer to transgender youth.

The debate that protesters and counter-protesters brought to Canadian streets on Wednesday has gained increasing traction in recent months because of new policies in two provinces.

Both New Brunswick and Saskatchewan introduced education policies that make it a rule for schools to obtain a parent's consent if a student under 16 wants to be called by a different name or pronoun.

Both of those policies have now become the subject of legal challenges.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has said he is prepared to use the notwithstanding clause to keep the policy in place in the face of concerns from critics, LGBTQ2S+ advocates and his province's child advocate, who argue that it discriminates against the rights of transgender and non-binary students.

For his part, Poilievre has only waded into the issue when asked about it.

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the New Brunswick policy this summer, Poilievre told reporters in the province that Trudeau should stay out of the provincial government's business and "let parents raise kids."

Poilievre's office pointed to that remark in Wednesday's message as one that MPs can repeat "to communicate with constituents on the issue of parental rights."

It also pointed to a statement Poilievre made to an ethnic media broadcaster ahead of Wednesday's demonstrations, in which he said he it was his view "that parents should be the final authority on the values and lessons that should be taught to children."

The preamble to the suggested talking points said protesters "enjoy the freedom of assembly and expression" to make the points they are raising, and that all MPs would be attending party caucus meetings Wednesday.

The note began with bolded text: "This messaging is for reactive use only. Please do not talk to media or post on social media about this issue."

The Canadian Press did not observe any caucus members attending the demonstrations in front of Parliament Hill.

In response to the protests, Trudeau tweeted on Wednesday that "transphobia, homophobia and biphobia have no place in this country," and that he stands in support of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was also observed attending a counter-protest in Ottawa.

Since becoming leader, Poilievre has tried steering the party to be laser-focused on issues around affordability and housing prices.

Successive summer polls that show the Tories in a healthy lead over the governing Liberals have left supporters buoyed and confident he is on the right track to return the Conservatives to power after spending eight years out of government.

But party delegates at this month's policy convention in Quebec City also made it clear they want the party to pronounce on cultural issues, not just economic ones.

Party members voted in favour of inking a new provision into its policy handbook stating it believes that women are entitled to "single-sex spaces" and that a future Conservative government should ban medicinal and surgical interventions for minors experiencing gender dysphoria.

Neither Poilievre nor his office have commented on what he intends to do with these new policies, which are not binding.

Like Conservative leaders before him, Poilievre said going into the policy convention that he reserves the right not to include policy changes adopted by the party's grassroots.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.

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